The Alberta government is providing one-time emergency financial assistance to residents who have been forced out of their homes because of wildfires that are threatening communities across the province.
Adults who have been displaced, by official order, for at least seven consecutive days are to receive $1,250, in addition to $500 for each dependent child under the age of 18, said Premier Danielle Smith during a news conference on Monday afternoon. Payments will be provided through an e-transfer.
“These payments will help evacuees pay for accommodation, food and other basic necessities. The payments will make those expenses one less thing for people to worry about so that they can concentrate on their families and their own well-being,” said Ms. Smith.
There were 95 active wildfires across Alberta on Monday afternoon, with 27 listed as out of control. Nearly 30,000 people have been evacuated from communities in north and central Alberta.
Christie Tucker, a spokesperson with Alberta Wildfire, said during the news conference that scattered showers and light winds have led to some progress dampening the blazes, but that Alberta is “not out of the woods yet.” She said warmer temperatures into the weekend could raise danger levels again.
Firefighters from other provinces, including a 16-person incident management team from British Columbia, have arrived in Alberta to assist with the fires.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Smith spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss a formal request by the province for aid, which includes additional firefighting resources, military aid and financial assistance.
Mr. Trudeau told media on Monday that Ottawa will support Albertans “as necessary” and said the federal government will be matching donations to the Red Cross. “It’s what we do,” he said. “Canadians are there for each other.”
Ms. Smith also faced questions on Monday after a leaked video, obtained by The Canadian Press, shows her informing United Conservative Party supporters on Saturday before she told the general public later in the day that her government was declaring a state of emergency owing to the wildfires.
Ms. Smith’s spokespeople declined to comment on the disclosure but reiterated that a decision had been made by the emergency management cabinet committee prior to the news conference where it was officially announced. They also said New Democratic Party Leader Rachel Notley was informed ahead of the news conference.
Ms. Notley, who did not disclose the decision until after it was made public, told media on Monday that it was inappropriate for Ms. Smith to discuss the state of emergency with party supporters ahead of people directly affected by the wildfires.
While conditions have improved, numerous power outages have been caused by the fires but conditions have been too dangerous for crews to access infrastructure to assess damage in many areas, ATCO spokesperson Robert Palmer told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail. He said customers in affected areas should prepare to be in the dark for an extended period of time.
In Northern Alberta, Chief Conroy Sewepagaham of Little Red River Cree Nation, which has seen some of the worst damage, said 85 homes have been destroyed in the community that is made up of Fox Lake, John D’Or Prairie, and Garden River. More than 3,700 residents have been evacuated.
He said better infrastructure could have saved some of the homes from being destroyed and is asking the provincial and federal governments to work together to support improvements on the nation, including paving a local highway and installing fire hydrants. But he said the priority right now is to save lives.
“I’ve heard a lot of people saying, ‘Homes we can rebuild, lives we can’t,’ ” said Mr. Sewepagaham.
The evacuation order for Edson, a town of about 8,000 people, and parts of Yellowhead County, with 6,000 or so rural residents, was lifted on Monday morning with officials asking residents not to all rush back at once.
Mayor Kevin Zahara said the nearby blaze, about 14 kilometres outside of town, did not damage any structures inside Edson, but some in the eastern part of the county were affected. The area school and hospital remained closed on Monday but the town’s utilities were fully functioning.
He said support is needed from other levels of government to help residents who were temporarily displaced. “This has been a huge expense to them,” he said. “Some of them don’t have insurance.”
The municipality can’t afford to cover the costs associated with responding to the emergency either, said the mayor.
In other parts of the province, some ranchers and farmers have defied evacuation orders. Some are using heavy equipment to build firebreaks around their properties while others simply won’t desert their animals.
Jens Jorgensen is among those staying behind on his 400-hectare farm with nearly 200 livestock, south of the hamlet of Wildwood. It’s calving season and he said he needs to be there when his animals give birth.
“We have cattle, we have horses, we have poultry,” said Mr. Jorgensen. “How do you manage or take care of your animals, or who you rely on to do that?”
With rain on Sunday and overnight, he said there is no reason to leave but he is concerned about having enough power to keep his animals alive. He’s using generators to keep things running.
With reports from Emma Graney and The Canadian Press